The Air Force is testing a new stealth drone at Area 51 that's designed to penetrate "contested" areas—in other words, countries where the US is not at all welcome, Aviation Week reports. Dubbed the RQ-180, the unmanned Northrop Grumman plane is thought to have better stealth design and aerodynamics than the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel that often flew out of Afghanistan (one was apparently captured by Iran). The Air Force won't confirm, but Northrop Grumman's financial reports and Area 51's big new hangars suggest that RQ-180 testing is underway.
This explains how the Air Force is planning to improve its ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) in "contested" areas—a problem they have admitted to before. "The mix is not where it needs to be," said an Air Force ISR official three months ago. "We are over-invested in permissive ISR and we have to transform the force to fight and win in contested environments." In other words, "permissive" areas like Afghanistan and Iraq are considered a thing of the past. So how many will the Air Force buy? Maybe just a few, since they'll be expensive and harder to keep under wraps if purchased in bulk. Hat tip, Wired. (See Iran's claim to its "biggest drone yet.")